Having spent over two decades in the Hindi film industry, Saif Ali Khan says he now has a far better understanding of the kind of films he enjoys doing. Ahead of the release of his next, which has been directed by Kabir Khan, the Bollywood actor discusses getting typecast, how off-screen comfort with an actor doesn’t always translate into on-screen chemistry, and more.
The image of a chocolate boy was attached to you for the longest time. Is it easy to get typecast in Bollywood?
I think, yes. Most stars have a special image. It’s the way people like to see you. The audience has so much variety to choose from that they decide which way they want to see you. As an actor, you can control that to a certain extent by the choices you make. For instance, an actor like Al Pacino resisted being slotted in the superstar, angry cop category. Or even Johnny Depp. Your choices define you. But given the way the audience would like to see you ina certain way, if that’s what being typecast is, then we are all victims of it.
Talking about acting, do you think working with co-stars, with whom you share a personal rapport, makes things easier?
No, I don’t think so. In fact, I believe comfort is the enemy of cinema. Tension is what translates well. I feel when two actors, who are acting together, don’t know each other much, and aren’t really concerned about one another, they will only concentrate on their jobs. Acting is a selfish business. I think if you’re only concerned about your own character, you’ll do a good job. Often strangers, who don’t really like each other, can look like long-lost lovers. Off-screen comfort is not a plus… it’s irrelevant actually.
What kinds of roles are you most comfortable playing?
I like grey areas. I’m not particularly attracted to or will be able to pull off characters that either showcase snow-white purity or are purely evil. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ve always chosen the best of what I’ve been offered over the years. I feel people don’t come to me with heroic parts; the characters usually offered to me tend to be flawed. I would like to play more heroic characters, I guess.
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You have previously worked with Katrina Kaif in Race (2008). How much has she grown as an actor since then?
She was quite new when we were working on Race, and even then, she did well. There was always a certain dedication. I remember she had bought a dress, which she wore in the song, ‘Touch me’, because she felt that there was something about it that worked well (the tassels on the dress). So, that kind of interest was rather different. She’s had some great scripts [over the years], and has pretty much become the darling of the nation.
You’re working with film-maker Vishal Bhardwaj once again, after Omkara (2006). He has always said that you are one of his favourite actors…
He is my favourite director. He asked me to play my character in a certain way, and gave me ideas that I could relate to [when we worked in the past], bringing out the best in me. I worked hard too, and knew what I was doing; he added to it. He really is an actor’s director.